Legislation would give new support to worksite gun law

Thursday, February 10th 2005, 3:10 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma lawmakers provided added support Thursday for a state law that allows workers to keep a gun in their locked vehicles at work _ a law that is being challenged in court by national employers.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a measure exempting businesses from legal liability if a gun is used at a work site after its author, Rep. Greg Piatt, R-Ardmore, said the bill addresses business concerns about Oklahoma's worksite gun law. The bill now goes to the full House.

``Businesses had two concerns _ safety and liability,'' Piatt said. ``I believe this bill addresses the one aspect that we can control and that is liability.''

Mike Seney, senior vice president of The State Chamber, which represents 2,000 businesses in Oklahoma and 26 other states, said the legislation does nothing to address the more basic problem _ safety.

``The key issue is we don't want people shot in our place of business,'' Seney said.

He said the measure also does not address the right of property owners to establish what can and cannot be brought on to the property.

Piatt said workers who are injured by a firearm on company property would still be eligible to receive workers compensation benefits.

Williams Cos., ConocoPhillips and other businesses are challenging a law passed by the Legislature last year that that allows guns on company property in locked vehicles. The State Chamber has also filed legal papers against the law.

The Legislature passed the law in response to the firings of 12 workers at a Weyerhaeuser Co. paper mill in southeast Oklahoma in 2002. The timber company had extended its longtime ban on guns in the workplace to the parking lot, and dogs found guns in the 12 employees' vehicles.

The measure was to have taken effect Nov. 1, but a federal judge in Tulsa blocked its enforcement when he approved a restraining order requested by the companies.

The law, part of the Oklahoma Firearms Act and the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act, prohibits businesses and employers from establishing policies that prohibit anyone other than a convicted felon from transporting and storing firearms in a locked vehicle in company parking lots.

Piatt said his proposal does not alter a workers' right to have a gun in their locked car.

``It doesn't prohibit that from taking place,'' he said.

Williams, based in Tulsa, ConocoPhillips, which is based in Houston but has offices in Bartlesville and a refinery in Ponca City, and the other companies say they have policies banning guns on company property to ensure a safe workplace.

The companies' lawsuit alleges the law unconstitutionally infringes upon their property rights and is too vague.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Whirlpool Corp., which employs about 1,500 workers at a Tulsa plant. Whirlpool is no longer a plaintiff.

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